Why cloud storage is the future of government

Government cloud solutions beat internal data centers by almost any metric, so why are so many agencies still using obsolete systems?

When it comes to government cloud storage, digital infrastructure is key

Cloud computing is a type of infrastructure as a service (IaaS) that relies on virtual machines (VMs), servers, networks, and storage from a cloud provider rather than using traditional internal data storage. With the recent push toward government cloud storage, this shift in digital infrastructure is becoming increasingly necessary. But for some IT decision-makers, the cloud might seem less secure than traditional data centers.

In many ways, cloud-based storage systems are actually more secure, in addition to being more efficient and affordable than traditional on-premises data storage systems. In this post, we'll explain why government agencies are switching to cloud-based storage systems, including some specific applications and solutions they are adopting.

Table of contents:

  • Government agencies collect massive amounts of data
  • Upgrading federal IT infrastructure is critical
  • The benefits of switching to the cloud
  • Explore government cloud solutions with Box
  • Learn what the Content Cloud can do for government

Government agencies collect massive amounts of data

In a typical 90-day span, U.S. government websites usually receive over 5 billion visits. More and more people now use the internet and digital services to find information and conduct tasks, and as digital technology improves, the amount of data generated naturally increases. The federal government already amasses an astounding amount of data every day, and data usage and creation is only going to increase.

For this reason, the Federal Data Strategy (FDS) was put in place. A 10-year plan that outlines how the government will use data moving forward, the FDS focuses on enhancing current processes and improving inter-agency collaboration to better serve the public.

The consolidation of government data centers

Key components of the Cloud Smart initiative: security, procurement, workforce

For much of the past decade, the federal government has been pursuing the Federal Cloud Computing Strategy, also called “Cloud Smart,” which aims to shift most data storage to the cloud and close legacy data centers. While some data centers will stay in place to handle the unique needs of certain agencies, the majority of the government's information will move online.

The Cloud Smart initiative has three key components:

  1. Security: By focusing on risk-based decision-making processes, implementing automation, and moving protections physically closer to data, IT staff can increase the security of national data in a cloud-based system
  2. Procurement: Enabling agencies to purchase cloud-based solutions facilitates the sharing of knowledge across agencies as well as the ability to adopt effective, repeatable data-management practices
  3. Workforce: By training and retraining new and existing talent in the areas of cybersecurity, cloud engineering, and acquisition, agencies can equip their personnel for an effective digital transformation

The Data Center Optimization Initiative (DCOI) is a major part of this campaign. This initiative aims to consolidate government data centers to optimize ROI for taxpayers while improving their ability to deliver public services.

Since 2016, the campaign has accomplished the following:

  • Saved $1,943,972,508 in savings and cost avoidance
  • Closed 210 tiered data centers
  • Closed 3,005 non-tiered data centers

According to the Cloud First strategy, the federal government's aim is to complete its final action steps in the early 2020s.

The Internet of Things creates a need for cloud storage

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects that exchange data with other internet-connected devices. These objects collect data through attached sensors and then share that data to the cloud, which users can access from anywhere, on any device.

The federal government has increased its usage of the IoT in recent years, including in some of the following areas:

Healthcare

By utilizing IoT networks in healthcare settings like hospitals, the healthcare industry can keep track of changing medical information, such as bed availability and patient condition, in real time.

Education

IoT devices like smart boards and online study materials have become almost ubiquitous in American classrooms. This connectivity allows schools to enhance campus safety, track the availability of resources and materials, and improve access to information.

Government services

Using a phone to pay for parking spaces is an example of IoT in government services

IoT makes government services more accessible to the general population. For example, drivers can use their phones to pay for public parking spaces instead of paying through parking meters.

Infrastructure

A disruption in federal infrastructure could be disastrous for citizens and government officials. However, using sensors in sensitive areas can allow agencies to catch issues before they escalate. For instance, attaching heat-sensitive devices to structures in areas prone to forest fires can alert emergency responders to dangerous temperatures, which can minimize disastrous fires.

Law enforcement

Working with cloud-based technology can help officials to optimize workflows by speeding up evidence capture for cases.

Public works

With cloud storage, public works agencies can speed projects along by making certain processes more accessible and transparent, including license approval, blueprint sharing, and subcontractor management.

Government agencies are increasingly reliant on this technology, which generates enormous quantities of data. However, all that data needs to be stored somewhere. That's where the cloud comes in.

Cloud-based storage systems are uniquely suited for storing large amounts of data collected through the IoT, which makes them ideal for government applications across all departments.

Email and document storage

A particularly important application of storing data through the cloud is the sharing of content and documents.

The infinitely scalable nature of cloud storage is especially beneficial for email and file sharing applications, as organizations can easily reduce or increase storage as data needs change. With the immense volume of documents and messages government organizations process every day, on-demand storage space that scales to agency needs is important. Many agencies are already using government cloud services to store their content.

Email

Cloud-storage companies have more data security resources than government agencies do

Plenty of organizations and agencies rely on email as their main mode of professional communication, and cloud-based email has been an intelligent upgrade for many of them.

Cloud-based email systems do not restrict communication to on-premises work. Government employees can instead send and receive emails from any approved device over the internet. This connectedness is incredibly beneficial for time-critical communication, remote work, and employees whose jobs regularly keep them away from a desk.

Additionally, cloud-based email services are more secure than their internal counterparts. Because cloud storage companies are devoted to storing and maintaining data, they have more data security resources at their disposal than most individual government agencies do. In-house IT professionals already juggle an abundance of tasks in addition to managing email security, so moving email to the cloud takes this task off their list.

Documents

Similarly, files stored and shared over the cloud ensure that their content is always backed up online, and anyone with access to the files sees the most current version in real time.

People can access documents from any internet-connected device, enabling teams to be productive from anywhere without creating version-control issues or risking file loss.

Cloud-based file-sharing programs also allow for increased collaboration. For example, some programs enable multiple users to work on the same document simultaneously, with updates in real time. This feature reduces time spent sending copies of documents back and forth and streamlines important processes.

Upgrading federal IT infrastructure is critical

Many federal departments are still using antiquated storage systems to manage their data — some with infrastructure going on 50 or 60 years old.

This reliance on old systems is a problem for several reasons:

  • Legacy systems no longer meet the needs of today's workplace
  • Support may no longer be available for the technology, and to operate and maintain old systems, agencies need to find staff with experience in older and obsolete systems, which can be difficult
  • These systems may be operating with hard-to-address security vulnerabilities
  • Legacy systems are much more expensive to maintain than modern technology
  • Older IT infrastructure slows down important government operations

In recent years, the government has been prioritizing switching to modern, cloud-based systems, and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this transition. But not every agency has transformed its content storage quickly.

Because each agency is currently at a different place in its timeline of moving to cloud storage, the FDS places a heavy emphasis on inter-agency collaboration. The consolidation of government data centers across all agencies is one way to streamline massive collections of information.

However, years of reports from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealing the slow progress on this front led to the introduction of Senate Bill 3897, or the Legacy IT Reduction Act of 2022. If passed, the bill would require agencies to:

  • Create a list of all the legacy IT systems each agency currently uses, operates, or maintains
  • Develop and report a strategic plan to modernize these systems within two years of the bill's implementation

Agencies would also need to continue reporting their plans and progress every five years after the initial two-year report. The bill defines the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) as the agency responsible for determining which systems qualify as legacy IT.

Public-private sector collaboration is the solution

Benefits of public-private sector collaboration include improved automation, safety, and infrastructure

Making the transition from old-school physical storage systems to the cloud is a complex process that often requires much more than a switch in devices. Government agencies also need to revise long-standing procedures and reroute their workflows, so it makes sense that they might be hesitant to take steps toward such a change. Collaboration between public agencies and private-sector companies could provide the necessary push to substantially improve and modernize federal IT infrastructure.

Many companies have been using cloud infrastructure for at least a few years, so they have experience in navigating crucial IT functions like security, privacy, and legal compliance. Companies that have been in the cloud-storage trenches can provide valuable information like best-practice protocols, ways to boost data security, and methods for determining the best cloud service providers for an application.

Collaboration with private-sector businesses can help government agencies accomplish the following:

  • Improved automation and modern infrastructure
  • Accelerated shifting to the cloud
  • Increased developments in safety and data protection
  • Advanced infrastructure with an extended lifespan
  • Frictionless citizen experience

The benefits of switching to the cloud

Moving as much of your operation's data as you can from traditional data centers to the cloud is a crucial part of any digital transformation. While it makes more sense to keep certain types of data on internal servers, most information can and should be transferred.

Consider the following advantages of using the cloud.

The cloud is cost-effective

A yearly average of $100 billiion is dedicated to maintain and operate legacy systems that are already obsolete

Many government systems receive funding from citizens through taxes, which means they're accountable to citizens for how they spend that money.

The U.S. government spends an average of $100 billion on information technology every fiscal year. However, most of this money goes toward the maintenance and operation of existing legacy systems, many of which contain technology that is, in many cases, obsolete.

There are several ways moving data to the cloud can save government agencies money.

Reduce upfront costs

In most cases, if you need to increase your cloud storage capacity, you can simply upgrade your storage subscription. On the other hand, increasing physical storage means purchasing a whole new storage device, which can be far more expensive.

Eliminate overhead costs

By moving your agency's data into the cloud, you no longer need to pay the costs associated with keeping a physical data storage center powered and running.

Only pay for what you need

The flexible nature of cloud storage allows you to easily adjust your storage space according to your organization's changing needs. This scalability can provide potentially unlimited storage space to applications that require extra attention, like emails or employee portals.

The cloud is more secure

Maintaining data in legacy systems carries a higher risk

Security is a valid concern for organizations considering a move to the cloud. However, allowing government data to remain solely in legacy systems is an increasingly risky move.

Here are some ways the cloud is more secure than traditional data storage.

Physical

Relying on internal data centers exposes your data to physical threats as well as cybersecurity risks. Natural disasters or other physical disasters could potentially wipe out your data by destroying your data centers. Plus, physical theft is always a possibility. Cloud services, though, have redundancy built into their networks, so if one center is affected, your data automatically transfers to another one.

Digital

Cloud systems come with built-in security measures like firewalls and data encryption, which guards your data against attacks. In theory, data centers could install these precautions as well, but they're often more costly and difficult to add.

Updates

Cloud service providers are always improving their security measures, devising new ways to block threats and patching holes. You don't have to do anything to take advantage of updates with cloud services; they are automatic, seamless, and invisible. With legacy systems, on the other hand, you're stuck with the security you started with, unless your IT team takes the time to implement updates on a regular basis.

If you're concerned about transparency or lack of control over your data, your agency might benefit from a hybrid-cloud approach, where you store certain workloads in the cloud while your more sensitive or mission-critical data remains in physical servers. Each organization has different security requirements, so it can help to examine several different providers to get a good idea of their requirements.

Do more with data in the cloud

The virtual nature of a cloud-based system gives it more capabilities

Cloud systems are virtual and therefore sustain more diverse operations than traditional on-premises data storage systems. Digital systems like the cloud present more capabilities than physical data centers.

Simple access

Cloud systems are geo-independent, which allows for high data availability regardless of the user's location. Additionally, redundancy protects your data in the event of a disaster or outage.

Improved performance

The cloud's virtual nature allows you to divide physical drives and servers into multiple discreet environments. You can dedicate each of these new compartments to specific resources and tasks. This capability can both improve performance and reduce costs because it allows you to run multiple applications and even multiple operating systems simultaneously on the same server.

Increased automation

Effective management of a cloud data-storage system requires at least some use of automation, which can also help to cut down on costs and boost your security.

Advanced synchronization

With localized or traditional storage, you only have the most updated copy of your file on whatever device you save it on, unless you send the newest copy to another device. Using the cloud, you can update a file and sync ongoing updates across all devices.

More effective use of staff

Without the need to physically maintain a data center, your IT staff is able to prioritize more pressing concerns. Especially in a time when on-premises staffing is limited, paring down their workload to the most essential tasks can help boost your operation's productivity.

Easier innovation

The cloud benefits your budgets with a more cost-effective and easy-to-maintain platform

Because the cloud is more cost-effective and easy to maintain than traditional storage systems, and offers scalable and often unlimited storage, it's easier to try out new ideas without breaking the budget or harming your existing infrastructure.

Streamlined processes

Automation like artificial intelligence can speed up citizen services by analyzing relevant data and producing an answer without having to involve a real person. For certain tasks, this could even lead to proactive solutions, which provide a seamless citizen experience.

Physical storage systems have had their day.Cloud technology allows government teams to relinquish a reliance on outdated hardware and software. Cloud-based programs are future-proof and more likely to withstand the test of time than traditional data centers.

Discover the power of the Content Cloud

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The Content Cloud is a game changer for the entire organization, streamlining workflows and boosting productivity across every team. Contact us today, and explore what you can do with Box.

Explore the Content Cloud for government

**While we maintain our steadfast commitment to offering products and services with best-in-class privacy, security, and compliance, the information provided in this blogpost is not intended to constitute legal advice. We strongly encourage prospective and current customers to perform their own due diligence when assessing compliance with applicable laws.

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